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Saddam appears compliant, calm in final moments

    BAGHDAD, Iraq — The scene was at once macabre and riveting.
    One of the most notorious dictators of the late 20th century, his hands bound behind him, was led up the stairs of the gallows by masked men in leather coats. A few seconds later, a trapdoor snapped open and — with a crash — the tyrant was dead.
    Saddam may have been the first chief of state executed in the age of the Internet and the camera phone. Probably because of that, his death was graphically documented on video, and available worldwide, within hours.
    This was not a Hollywood version of an execution: in video aired on Iraqi TV and several web sites, the former strongman did not plead for his life, nor did he violently resist the executioners who slipped the rope around his neck. State television did not broadcast footage of the actual hanging.
    But camera phone video, posted in full or in part on several Arabic language Web sites, picked up where the TV coverage left off. In it, Saddam was taunted in the final seconds leading up to his execution, and appeared to have smiled at his tormentors. While, the sentence was carried out, he calmly recited verses from the Quran in a clear voice.
    Finally, Saddam’s body can be seen swinging in the dim light — his neck apparently snapped.
    One of the most striking things about the grisly videos, perhaps, was how calmly and cooperatively the tyrant faced death.
    Saddam had reportedly asked that, as Iraq’s commander in chief, he be sent before a firing squad. Instead, he was condemned to die on the gallows — as though he were a garden variety Iraqi thug or criminal.
    When the time came, before dawn in Baghdad, Saddam did not wear his familiar military uniform with its jaunty beret but a black coat over a white shirt, black trousers and black shoes. His jet black hair was carefully combed, his salt-and-pepper beard neatly clipped.
    The 69-year-old Saddam struggled briefly when U.S. military guards handed him over to his Iraqi executioners, said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it was apparently his last effort at physical resistance.
    Saddam was taken to a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad. During his regime, he had numerous dissidents executed in the facility.
    Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp. Saddam was not sedated.
    ‘‘Not at all, Saddam was normal and in full control,’’ Haddad said. ‘‘He was aware of his fate and he knew he was about to face death. He said ’This is my end, this is the end of my life, but I started my life as a fighter and as a political militant so death does not frighten me.’’’
    After his captors brought Saddam into the execution chamber, his hands — which were tied in front of him — were untied, then tied in the back, Haddad told the BBC.
    ‘‘They put his feet in shackles and he was taken upstairs to the gallows,’’ Haddad said. ‘‘He was reciting, as it was his custom, ’God is great’ and also some political slogans like ’Down with the Americans!’ and ’Down with the invaders!’
    ‘‘He said we are going to Heaven and our enemies will rot in hell and he also called for forgiveness and love among Iraqis but also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians.’’
    A silent, minute-long video that aired on Iraqi television showed Saddam on the scaffold. He seemed to have little to say, and his eyes appeared lost in a 1,000-yard stare.
    Four or five burly men guided him gently but firmly toward a red metal railing marking the trap door. A thick rope hung like a sinister vine from the low ceiling. An unseen photographer’s flash created fleeting stark shadows.
    With a blank expression, Saddam refused a black hood — but he did so with a shake of his head that seemed more distracted than defiant.
    Then he appeared to agree to let one of his executioners tie a black scarf around his neck — presumably to prevent injuries that might disfigure his corpse.
    In the televised video, Saddam stood stoically as the noose was slipped over his head. Then the Iraqi TV footage ended.
    But the camera phone video, broadcast in part on Al-Jazeera and aired in full on Arabic-language Web sites, continued.
    One of the official witnesses to the execution called out praise for Dawa Party founder and Shiite cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, who was executed along with his sister by Saddam in 1980. The Islamic party has been locked in a fierce decades-old battle with Saddam’s now outlawed secular Baath party. Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful and radical Shiite cleric in Iraq, is a distant relative of the Dawa founder.
    Saddam appeared to smile at those taunting him from below the gallows, and said they were not showing their manhood.
    Then Saddam began reciting the ‘‘Shahada,’’ a Muslim prayer that says there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.
    ‘‘Saddam did so but with sarcasm,’’ Haddad said.
    Saddam made it to midway through his second recitation of the verse. His last word was Muhammad.
    The floor dropped out of the gallows, there was a crash and the chamber erupted in shouting.
    ‘‘The tyrant has fallen,’’ someone called. The video showed a close-up of Saddam’s face as he swung from the rope.
    Then came another voice: ‘‘Let him swing for three minutes.’’
    Asked if Saddam suffered, Haddad told the BBC: ‘‘He was killed instantly, I witnessed the impact of the rope around his neck and it was a horrible sight.’’
    Iraqi television broadcasts included a shaky image of the aftermath: a shot of what appeared to be Saddam’s corpse, laid out on a hospital gurney, his head wrenched grotesquely to the right. His neck appeared to be bruised.
    Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were originally scheduled to be hanged along with their former leader.
    Iraqi officials, though, decided to reserve the occasion for Saddam alone.

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